University of Houston launches new AI lab geared toward oilfield tech

UH's Sugar Land campus has a new innovation hub focused on machine learning in the energy industry. Photo via UH.edu

The University of Houston at Sugar Land is now home to an innovative lab that will work to find new ways to use artificial intelligence in the oilfield.

Dubbed the Artificial Intelligence Industry Incubator and Digital Oilfield Lab at the University of Houston, the facility will allow faculty, students, and energy professionals to develop technologies and solutions to increase efficiency and boost oil field safety through machine learning, according to a release from UH.

The lab opened in late 2020 and is part of the College of Technology's Advanced Technology and Innovation Laboratory. It represents a partnership with the UH College of Technology and the AI Innovation Consortium based in Louisville, Kentucky.

The consortium also includes Pennsylvania State University, the University of Louisville, Louisiana State University, and a number of corporations.

According to the release from UH, several companies have already agreed to work with the lab on projects that will find ways to use AI for predictive analytics, visual inspection, and health and safety measures.

"This incubator program emphasizes the need to build projects grounded in clear business value, with technologically rich and hands-on initiatives, and an engaging industry/academia partnership," Konrad Konarski, chair and director of operations at AIIC, says in a statement. "This allows us to focus on the most relevant AI technologies that have immediate impact and value to the oil and gas industry."

Too, the lab aims to provide students with valuable experiences that they can likely leverage into a job upon graduation.

"The laboratory and incubator will allow our students to contribute to the various applied research and proof of concept work currently underway and in the future," David Crawley, professor of practice in the College of Technology, says in a statement. "This includes working with the AIIC's commercial partners to create opportunities to move their incubator experience and advanced academic background into jobs at participating operations."

The university has also made headway in recent months using machine learning to better the search for "super hard" materials, such as diamonds. It also launched a new drug discovery institute in November.

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Building Houston

 
 

This health tech company has made some significant changes in order to keep up with its growth. Photo via Getty Images

With a new CEO and chief operating officer aboard, Houston-based DataJoint is thinking small in order to go big.

Looking ahead to 2022, DataJoint aims to enable hundreds of smaller projects rather than a handful of mega-projects, CEO Dimitri Yatsenko says. DataJoint develops data management software that empowers collaboration in the neuroscience and artificial intelligence sectors.

"Our strategy is to take the lessons that we have learned over the past four years working with major projects with multi-institutional consortia," Yatsenko says, "and translate them into a platform that thousands of labs can use efficiently to accelerate their research and make it more open and rigorous."

Ahead of that shift, the startup has undergone some significant changes, including two moves in the C-suite.

Yatsenko became CEO in February after stints as vice president of R&D and as president. He co-founded the company as Vathes LLC in 2016. Yatsenko succeeded co-founder Edgar Walker, who had been CEO since May 2020 and was vice president of engineering before that.

In tandem with Yatsenko's ascent to CEO, the company brought aboard Jason Kirkpatrick as COO. Kirkpatrick previously was chief financial officer of Houston-based Darcy Partners, an energy industry advisory firm; chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Houston-based Solid Systems CAD Services (SSCS), an IT services company; and senior vice president of finance and general manager of operations at Houston-based SmartVault Corp., a cloud-based document management company.

"Most of our team are scientists and engineers. Recruiting an experienced business leader was a timely step for us, and Jason's vast leadership experience in the software industry and recurring revenue models added a new dimension to our team," Yatsenko says.

Other recent changes include:

  • Converting from an LLC structure to a C corporation structure to enable founders, employees, and future investors to be granted shares of the company's stock.
  • Shortening the business' name to DataJoint from DataJoint Neuro and recently launching its rebranded website.
  • Moving the company's office from the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute (TMCx) to the Galleria area. The new space will make room for more employees. Yatsenko says the 12-employee startup plans to increase its headcount to 15 to 20 by the end of this year.

Over the past five years, the company's customer base has expanded to include neuroscience institutions such as Princeton University's Princeton Neuroscience Institute and Columbia University's Zuckerman Institute for Brain Science, as well as University College London and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. DataJoint's growth has been fueled in large part by grants from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"The work we are tackling has our team truly excited about the future, particularly the capabilities being offered to the neuroscience community to understand how the brain forms perceptions and generates behavior," Yatsenko says.

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